How to Shoot and Retouch a Panorama

by | 4 years ago

I love to travel, and my destinations are often inspired by other photographers. One day I saw a photo of Big Sur; to be more precise, it was a photo of McWay Falls in Big Sur. I immediately added it to my bucket list of places to photograph. The day I went, I felt like the luckiest man on earth. I had the most magnificent sunset ever; it really embraced the beauty of this place and created a magical moment to witness and photograph. Here are all the steps I went through afterwards to get the result above.

Step One: First, let’s take look at what I went through to find the right composition. When I arrived, the light was okay but not crazy; the sun was on the far right and not on the waterfall at all. I tried taking six photos to create a panorama: three across the top of the scene and then three across the bottom. Here’s the result from my first attempt.

Step Two: Then I waited 10 minutes and the light changed; it started to light up the waterfall. I still wanted to make a panorama, but in my second attempt, I lost the frame-within-a-frame composition, and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

Step Three: Finally, I moved a bit more to the right, and the light started to be really amazing, with some magenta in the sky (my favorite). Determined to do a panorama with the frame-within-a-frame composition, I took four photos: right, left, down, and then back to the right. Here’s the final image of this last attempt.

Step Four: This is one of my favorite photos of all time! So, let me share with you my secret to developing this photo. To make a panorama in Lightroom, first you need to import your photos into your catalog. Once you have your photos, select them in the Filmstrip in the Library module, Right-click on one of the selected photos, and choose Photo Merge>Panorama.

Step Five: I love this option, because you can create, crop, retouch, and pick your white balance for your panorama, all right in Lightroom—so much easier! Now that you’re in the Panorama Merge Preview dialog, you can choose the options that work best for your photo. For this pano, I picked Perspective because it’s the only option that didn’t distort the horizon.

Step Six: You could choose Auto Crop in the Panorama Merge Preview dialog, but you can easily crop the photo yourself. After clicking Merge, use the Crop Overlay tool (R), and crop out all the white and unwanted areas of the photo, as shown here. Press Enter to commit the crop.

Step Seven: Now that we have a nice panoramic RAW file, we can start with a basic development: Open up the Shadows to +100, lower the Highlights to –100, set the Blacks to –33, and increase Whites to +45.

When I started out in photography, I added a lot of Clarity to my landscapes, but when you do that, it looks very unnatural. On this photo, I wanted to go for a saturated look, because the scene was saturated, but I also wanted to keep it looking natural. For that, I lowered the Clarity to –20. As the image lacked contrast, I boosted the Contrast to +37, and added some Vibrance (+36) and Saturation (+15). That’s my basic development, but it’s already made a big difference.

Step Eight: As you can see, the white balance is a bit off. I tried setting the white balance to Shade, but that didn’t work at all for this example.

Step Nine: So, I moved the Temp slider to 4,513 and the Tint to +10, which gave a much nicer look to the photo. Now we’re at a great starting point to make this photo look as incredible as the actual scene was when I was there!

Step 10: To re-create the ambience, let’s first remove the ugly sign at the bottom of the photo using the Spot Remove tool (Q). Just paint the area that you want Lightroom to remove. This works well in this example because there’s a lot of random texture around the sign.

Step 11: One of my favorite tools in Lightroom is the Graduated Filter (M), and I’m going to use several on this photo. I’m not a fan of the texture at the bottom of this photo, so I’m going to “close” that area of the photo with three Graduated Filters. I applied them on the left, right, and in the middle, and set the Exposure to around –0.79 to darken those areas.

Step 12: We’re missing the sun that was present at the time; so to re-create the sun, use a Radial Filter (Shift-M). Make a big oval to the right of the photo, make sure Invert is clicked on, and set the Feather to 100. Then, boost the Exposure to 1.75, drag Saturation to 55, and set the Temp all the way to 100 to get this very yellow look, exactly how it was when I was there, to be honest.

Step 13: Now that the sun has been re-created and the lower part of the photo is “closed,” I can set up Graduated Filters at the top of the photo. I added two: the first with a subtle minus Exposure (–0.60), and a second at the top of the photo to add more blue by setting the Temp to –20 and the Exposure to –0.11.

Step 14: To finish a photo like this, you can do some dodging and burning with the Adjustment Brush (K). Set the Flow to around 90, boost the Exposure a bit, and just brush parts of the photo to brighten them and make them pop, such as the water and parts of the trees in this image. This will make the photo more dynamic. Be careful to not go over the top with your adjustments; just paint on various parts of the photo to highlight those areas. If you see that your brush is too extreme, you can hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and it will become an eraser.

Here’s the final result:

I hope that you enjoyed these tips and that you get amazing sunsets with the pleasure of developing it the way it was when you witnessed it. Happy shooting, my friends!